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Children's LiteratureEleven-year-old Malika aspires to travel when her father journeys to faraway markets. Instead, she is confined to her late nineteenth-century Libyan home and the rooftops where women thrive in a vibrant community while men control the streets. After her father's departure, Malika's life is complicated when Bilkisu, her father's second wife, boldly rescues a wounded man, Abdelkarim, who entered the city to preach rivals' religious beliefs. Enraged citizens attacked him for not conforming. Malika's mother, Meriem, reluctantly agrees to hide Abdelkarim in their rooftop pantry. They nurse his wounds, while worrying others will find and hurt him. Because their actions are contrary to cultural customs and gender roles, they risk public disdain and punishment. While Abdelkarim is hidden, he teaches Malika to read and write. She gains a greater awareness and tolerance of ideas and customs foreign to her community. Helping Abdelkarim escape disguised as a woman, Malika experiences a liberating nighttime festival when females are allowed to move freely past the city's gates. Malika's father gives her a telescope, encouraging her to see beyond Ghadames, stargaze, and dream. This novel's females are independent, strong, and resourceful, mentoring each other, questioning rules, and adjusting societal expectations. Novels with exotic settings featuring girls who gain autonomy and power within restrictive cultures include Susan Fletcher's Shadow Spinner (1998), and Gloria Whelan's Homeless Bird (2000). 2004 (orig. 1999), Delacorte, Ages 11 up.
—Elizabeth D. Schafer